URA plan will destroy area's creative buzz, filmmakers say

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 April, 2010, 12:00am

When film producer Amy Chin came across a 1,500 sq ft flat in an old shophouse in the Mong Kok flower market 20 years ago while looking for a new office, she knew she had fallen in love - with its high ceilings, balcony and huge, enclosed verandah.

'This place is very good for creative people because of the ambience,' she said. 'We work late, until three or four in the morning, when the flower hawkers come out. The air is so fresh.'

Over the years, some of the biggest names in Hong Kong film joined Chin: film director John Woo Yu-sen shared an office with her until he moved to Los Angeles, director Fruit Chan Gor rented the flat upstairs, actor Chow Yun-fat's agency moved in and director Ann Hui On-wah used one of the building's flats to film a movie.

Chin credits her landlord, a retired civil engineer, for keeping the building in good shape - and the rent low.

'He's done a better job of taking care of this property than the government ever could,' she said. 'The reason I can keep on making movies is because of this place.'

Now her building is one of 10 shophouses slated for renewal by the Urban Renewal Authority.

The buildings, which were built in the 1930s by the Belgian construction company Credit Foncier d'Extreme Orient, were originally targeted at middle-class homeowners, built with amenities like private bathrooms that were unusual in other shophouses. Today, the buildings house mostly flower shops on the ground floor and businesses and apartments on the upper floors.

But although the URA has assured ground-floor tenants they can return to their shops after the renovations, no plans have been made for the upper floors, which are zoned for commercial and cultural use.

'I'm not sure if, after they've redone this place, creative people will be able to come back if they rent it to us at a market price,' Chin said.

The current landlord charges HK$15,000 a month, about HK$10 per sq ft - a rate comparable to those in industrial districts, not Mong Kok.

'This is the creative industry right here,' said Chan, whose 1997 film Made in Hong Kong earned him international recognition. He has rented a flat in the building for six years.

'There's art studios, dance companies, people like us. A lot of movies have been made here.'

Chan's flat contains an office, a storage room for props and an editing room. He worries that the fate of the Prince Edward Road buildings will be the same as the Woo Cheong Pawn Shop in Wan Chai, which was converted into an upscale restaurant as part of another URA project.

'After they renewed the building, everything inside it was destroyed. Now it's a restaurant for tourists. It's so sad.'

URA spokesman Jimmy Sha said nothing had been planned for the upper floors, as the purchase of buildings had just started. Its goal, he said, was to prevent the demolition of historically important shophouses around Mong Kok, which have been at the centre of redevelopment talks in recent years.

At an information meeting with URA representatives last week, Chan asked about the fate of upstairs tenants after the renovations.

'Nobody answered me,' he said. 'It's hard for an independent film company to survive in Hong Kong. The film industry has been moving to factories in Kwun Tong, but it's nicer here. But we know that in the end, if the government insists on doing something very commercial with this space, we'll have no choice but to leave.'